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Laughs aside, new Big 'East' could generate serious interest

Well, there goes the neighborhood.

And there. And way over there. Farther up there than you imagine, and so far in that direction you can't help but giggle. This is the Big East? East of what, the Far East? East of Eden? East of Krakatoa? East of wherever west begins?

It's a big neighborhood, in other words. There are blue yards and former graveyards, and yards across four time zones, and yards from this side of the country to that one.

For instance, you could fit 20,058 football fields between USF and SMU.

For instance, you could fit 431,024 first downs between USF and San Diego State.

For instance, you would have to convert 4,627,040 third and 1s to make it to Boise State.

For a USF program that has moved neither very far nor very fast in recent seasons, that's quite a ways for a cattle drive. The Big East is suddenly like McDonald's; it has franchises everywhere. It's as if someone sneezed on a map of the United States.

So here is the first question: Was it worth it for the Big East? Well, yeah, because the other alternatives weren't very attractive. One was to invite Temple, East Carolina and Southern Miss to the party and hope nobody noticed. Another was to disband and hope Conference USA was feeling charitable. The third was to ignore the geography and hope the results would be good enough not to void the warranty on that automatic BCS bid that makes the conference matter.

So here we are, with a Big East that includes a team from Idaho, a team from California, two teams from Texas and another from Florida. So, has anyone heard from Navy? Air Force? Apex Tech? Anybody?

And so a nation laughs. There is widespread scoffing when it comes to the destinations, and for that matter, the desperation.

Now that it is done, however, you have to concede this:

This could be fairly interesting.

You have Boise, the Cinderella team that keeps embarrassing bigger programs. You have SMU, the Lazarus team. You have Houston, which matters again. You have San Diego State, which is near a pretty good zoo. Also, there is UCF, which should make things fun.

So who are these guys?

You know a few things about Boise State, of course. One is the Smurf Turf, that Windex blue field the Broncos play on. Another is that quarterback Kellen Moore has played there for it seems 134 straight seasons. A third is that as of right flipping now, Boise State is the favorite to win the Big East for the next six seasons.

Maybe you don't know this. Boise State is still a newbie in Division I-A. It started playing in I-A in 1996, only five years before USF. Dave Wilcox, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, played at Boise State when it was a junior college. Also, the school fight song urges the Broncos to fight on "bravely'' and "courageously.''

And did I mention the field is blue?

Ah, and then there is San Diego State, Marshall Faulk's old school, Don Coryell's old school. Apollo Creed (actor Carl Weathers) went to school there. Hunter (actor Fred Dryer) played there. Richie Cunningham's mom (actor Marion Ross) went there.

San Diego State's athletic teams are called "the Aztecs.'' You will probably agree that is more fitting than the early nickname of "The Professors.''

SMU is an intriguing addition, considering that for part of the 1980s the Mustangs were, well, dead. SMU remains the only team to get the death penalty from the NCAA for rules violations.

Ah, but there was a time — back in the day of Eric Dickerson and Craig James — when the Mustangs could play with anyone. Doak Walker played at SMU. Forrest Gregg, the old Packer, played there. Rod "Toast'' Jones, the former Bucs cornerback, played there. So did Don Meredith and Jerry Ball.

Things you might not know: SMU's fans, like those at most Texas schools, have a hand signal. It's called the pony ears, and it looks like a drooping peace sign. Also, there is a mascot, Peruna, a Shetland pony.

Not far away is Houston, which has had a surprisingly good season. The Cougars are 12-1 and ranked 19th in the BCS standings. Of the new and old Big East teams, only Boise State (seventh) is ranked higher.

Houston, too, has some history. Quarterback Andre Ware won a Heisman playing in its run-and-shoot offense. David Klingler, another quarterback, was a first-round draft pick after playing there.

(Houston also has a history of playing excellent basketball. Remember Elvin Hayes? Remember Phi Slama Jama?)

Traditions? Houston's hand sign is to bend a ring finger beneath one's thumb, a tribute to when its mascot, Shasta, (then a live cougar) lost a digit exiting its cage.

Then there is UCF. The students, the players, the fans of USF know all about the Knights. That's good. As of this second, it becomes the best rivalry in the league.

So how did the conference do? It still isn't big enough, and it isn't east enough, but it should be a better league when the new teams arrive in 2013. It's going to be interesting to watch. For now, I don't think the BCS is going to be asking for its automatic bid back.

For now, that's probably the best the Big East could do.

As for the Bulls, they should fasten their seat belts and place their tray tables upright. It's going to be a long flight.

Laughs aside, new Big 'East' could generate serious interest 12/08/11 [Last modified: Thursday, December 8, 2011 10:25pm]

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